Ophthalmology is both a medical and a surgical eye specialty. In one day of work, an ophthalmologist might perform cataract surgery and vision exams, conduct research and fit eyeglasses. To become an ophthalmologist, you must complete college, medical school and residency. You may also complete a fellowship, an extended period of training.
Getting into Medical School
All physicians must complete a bachelor’s degree to gain admission to medical school. You can choose any major, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, as long as you meet necessary prerequisites such as chemistry, biology and math. You must also take the Medical College Admissions Test. Because medical schools are highly competitive and look at factors other than academic achievement, aspiring ophthalmologists may also volunteer or work in health care during college. Most medical schools also require that you interview with the admissions committee.
Medicine or Osteopathy
In choosing a medical school, you must decide whether you want to be a doctor of medicine or a doctor of osteopathy. In both cases, you will attend a four-year medical school. Many of the subjects, such as anatomy, physiology, physics, biochemistry, medical ethics and medical law, will be the same in both types of schools. Osteopathic schools emphasize holistic medicine -- the care of the whole patient -- and primary care, which is where most osteopaths eventually practice. Osteopaths also learn about osteopathic medical treatment: using the hands to diagnose and treat illness.. However, training in a conventional medical school can mean more exposure to the newest research, technologies and medical practices, according to The Princeton Review.
In residency, you will begin the specialized training that makes you an ophthalmologist. The first year -- sometimes called an internship year -- is your basic training year. You’ll learn how to examine and diagnose eye problems and diseases, see patients in clinics and manage their care under the supervision of an experienced physician. Although each program may be organized differently, by the end of the first year you will probably begin to perform simple eye surgeries. By the end of the fourth year in residency, you will perform complex, delicate and highly technical eye operations.
Fellowships, Licensing and Certification
Although you have the option to begin practicing as an ophthalmologist once you complete your residency and pass the medical or osteopathic licensing exam, you might decide to continue your training in a subspecialty fellowship. Fellowships typically last one or two years and include subspecialty areas such as plastic surgery, or pediatric, glaucoma, retina or corneal surgery, according to the eyecareAmerica website. Most ophthalmologists also become board-certified, although certification is not required for medical practice. Certification is available from the American Board of Ophthalmology. You must pass both written and oral examinations.
Job Growth, Demand and Salaries
Physicians and surgeons can expect a growth rate of 18 percent from 2012 to 2022, according to the BLS. The average projected growth rate for all occupations for the same period is 11 percent. However, some medical specialties are in higher demand than others. Merritt Hawkins, a nationwide physician recruiting firm, reports ophthalmologists were 20th on its list of the top 20 most-requested specialties in 2012. “Becker’s Hospital Review” reports the median salary for ophthalmologists in 2012 was $372,552. Ophthalmologists employed by hospitals earned $205,000 a year and those employed by multispecialty group practices earned $340,000 a year.